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She heard God’s call on campus

Deb Johnson, an MEF recipient, at the lakeshore

Ministry Shares support United Methodist seminaries and students on campus. Like the Rev. Deborah Johnson, alumnae of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

The Rev. Deborah Johnson, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Alumna (G-ETS 1981), heard her call while working in campus ministry at Iowa State University.

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary is one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries supported by the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment of the United Methodist Church.

She had grown up in Northern Michigan near Cadillac and went to college at Central Michigan University, where she majored in education. She had planned to become an elementary school teacher, she said, but later changed her mind after becoming involved with the Wesley Foundation on campus. Instead of being a teacher after she graduated in 1974, she accepted a two year position in campus ministry at Iowa State.

“It was in the practice of doing my ministry, I realized my call,” she said. With the encouragement of Gary Putnam (G-ETS 1965), the campus minister and a Garrett-Evangelical graduate, Johnson explored going to seminary and ultimately chose Garrett-Evangelical.

She enrolled in the fall of 1977 and enjoyed her experience tremendously. “It was so fun,” she recalled. “I had never had a woman pastor growing up, and there were women pastors all over the place at Garrett-Evangelical.” Her first advisor was Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether, which she said, “was like sitting at the feet of a saint.”

At the time, she said, Garrett-Evangelical was paying attention to the fact that women in seminary needed to meet with other women and learn things differently. “We had a class in pastoral care for women and a class on church administration for women, where we learned about boilers and tuck pointing and other things we might not have known about,” she said. “It was great community building with other women students, but also very practical.”

After graduating in 1981, Johnson became the pastor of the Manton United Methodist Church, about 20 minutes from where her parents were living. “It was like coming home,” she said.

Four years later, she moved to the Marne United Methodist Church in Marne, Michigan, near Grand Rapids, where she was the pastor for five years. After that, she helped start a church in Hudsonville, Michigan, and served there for seven years. In 1997, she moved to Lansing Asbury United Methodist Church and served there for 11 years until she moved to the Sturgis United Methodist Church in Sturgis, Michigan. She retired from that church in 2014.

She said she was known for creating programs and her mission work. “I had a real emphasis on mission in all of the churches I served,” she said.

Although Johnson is technically retired, she still guest preaches at area churches She is also serving as board chair of the Wesley Foundation at Ferris State University and working with the campus ministry there, coming full circle from where she began.

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL

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~ reported by We Give at umcgiving.org.

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